Residents in Limpopo epileptic care centre subjected to poor conditions, Sassa deductions, says social worker
The Elandsdoorn Centre of the Epilepsy Foundation South Africa is meant to offer specialised services to those affected by epilepsy. However, allegations of mismanagement of funds, intimidation of workers and poor conditions for beneficiaries have surfaced.
A former employee, a ward councillor and representatives of a local community organisation have raised concerns about the Elandsdoorn Centre of the Epilepsy Foundation South Africa.
The centre was previously affiliated with Epilepsy SA and is supposed to offer specialised and comprehensive services to persons with and affected by epilepsy.
However, concerned individuals claim there is mismanagement of funds, intimidation of workers and poor sanitary conditions for beneficiaries at the centre.
Sounding the alarm
A former social worker at the organisation, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisals, was one of the first individuals to sound the alarm about Epilepsy Foundation South Africa’s Elandsdoorn Centre. He joined the organisation in February this year as a social worker and was informed that there was a backlog of paperwork as the centre had been without a social worker.
“The reason for them not having social workers is because the previous social worker was dismissed due to questioning some of the irregularities at the centre,” he said.
One of his main tasks was reporting to the Limpopo Department of Social Development (DSD).
“Later on, as things went by, I noticed that they were not complying with regulations. They were misusing the funds of the organisation and also not taking care of the residents as they were supposed to,” he said.
The social worker started asking questions and shared his concerns with the DSD, which led to him being labelled a “spy” and a “sellout” within the organisation, he said.
“I compiled a report [in May 2023] to send to the local DSD about the things happening in the centre. The local office sent the report to the DSD district office and no further action was taken,” he said.
In the report, the social worker claimed that:
- The centre has no manager, but only an acting manager with limited powers.
- There were concerns about the involvement of board members who have full control and final say over all matters, particularly finances.
- The board members show little interest in addressing reported grievances and issues at the centre that affect beneficiaries.
- There is a lack of transparency regarding finances, with instances of irregular expenditure and no protocol for purchases.
- Epilepsy SA had officially informed the centre that they were not formally affiliated with them, and, as a result, the centre could not use the Epilepsy SA logo on any of their documents, and should not operate under their name.
- There were concerns regarding the nonpayment of pension funds.
- The residents in the centre receive Sassa grants and part of that money is deposited in their personal bank accounts. However, there are discrepancies when it comes to the amount of money on the request forms.
Regarding the Sassa grants, the social worker explained that on becoming residents of the centre, people filled in forms so their grants could be deposited into the centre’s bank account. While the residents were supposed to receive the full amount, deductions were allegedly being made from the grants, with only a portion going to the beneficiaries. This is despite the centre’s records showing that the full amounts have been going to the beneficiaries.
After no action was taken by the DSD district office, the social worker sent the same report to the local Sassa office as they are subsidising the organisation.
“Sassa took the decision to report the matter to the provincial office, and the provincial office was not aware of this report even though I submitted it to the local and district office,” he said.
Allegations of victimisation
The social worker said he was later suspended for his actions.
“They said I had issued confidential information to outsiders but I felt it was right for me to do so because I was the social worker of the organisation, and my main area of practice was to make sure that the residents were well taken care of,” he said.
Following his report, the social worker said he was victimised by the acting manager of the centre and the board members.
“An amount of R2,700 was deducted from my salary without consent or notification and they said this was to pay for traffic fines that the vehicle of the organisation had accumulated,” he said.
On 5 September 2023, he was issued with a notice of a disciplinary inquiry scheduled for 12 September. He was charged with divulging confidential organisational information to outsiders, deliberately spreading falsified information about the organisation, and reckless use of the organisation’s property.
“I was dismissed on the spot, without a code of conduct presented to me and without any formal charge sheet presented to me,” said the social worker.
Daily Maverick asked Eunice Sekhukhune, the acting manager of Epilepsy Foundation South Africa’s Elandsdoorn Centre for comment, but she said she had to first speak to the chair of the board, Thabile Mathibedi.
Mathibedi did not reply to a WhatsApp message on 8 November or numerous phone calls from Daily Maverick. We were unable to reach the other board members.
Residents bear the brunt
At the time the social worker left the centre, there were 77 residents, including some who had been moved there after the Life Esidimeni tragedy.
The social worker said the treatment of residents was not up to standard, and that the board members deemed it a misuse of funds if anyone suggested spending on services that would benefit the residents.
“In terms of food, I can say they [the centre] are providing, but with regard to clothing and other things, they have been compromised. I had to look for clothing from local communities in order for the residents to have decent clothes,” he said.
Although there was sufficient food provided to the residents, the former social worker said the food was often not nutritional.
“It is also not a hygienic environment… the rooms are not properly cleaned and smell of urine,” he said.
“Another thing that we fought for was the issue of the toilets, because they’re using pit toilets that are full and cannot be drained.”
The social worker said there had been an incident where a Sassa card was stolen from a resident.
“Money was withdrawn from the card and a case was opened with the police, but the board closed the case and didn’t communicate anything,” he said.
There are also security concerns at the centre. A resident disappeared from the centre and went missing for two weeks before being found dead.
“The residents are also exposed to hard labour like digging and doing painting and general maintenance,” said the social worker.
Madisa Noto, from the Ntwane Community Development Forum, said the issues regarding the centre were brought to their attention in September.
The board consists of three members, one of whom was deployed by the tribal authority to be an observer at the centre, said Nota.
“That observer realised there were loopholes and took advantage of the situation. As we speak, he is part of the board, but he’s a very silent partner in the sense that he’s giving instructions that are questionable… He is not executing his observation task as he was requested by the tribal authority.”
Nota said that the organisation was also using an unauthorised auditor for their bookkeeping.
Ward councillor Mathabathe Mohlamme said he had heard complaints about the centre in November 2021.
“People were complaining to me about the centre, telling me that things are not good and there is money going out but nothing is being done,” he said.
He conducted an oversight visit and was shocked by the state of the centre.
“I was surprised there were only four toilets… others [residents] were helping themselves outside the toilets and I was concerned,” he said.
“There are bank statements that show that they have swiped the (centre’s) card at Cashbuild, but when you look at the facility, it is poor… there is nothing that shows they bought paint or anything.”
Mohlamme arranged to meet the board, but it was the same three who turned up.
“I started calling the other board members who told me they no longer receive messages about meetings… others told me that they had been chased away,” he said.
Mohlamme said a board member had informed him about allegedly illicit financial matters occurring within the centre, and that the board members had shared roughly R20,000 among themselves that was supposed to be for the centre.
Mohlamme said he had meetings with the Social Development MEC Nandi Ndalane and DSD directors.
“I raised my concerns with them, but there was no response. They are not doing anything about the issue and it has been over six months,” he said.
Department aware of issues
Joshua Kwapa, media liaison at the Limpopo Department of Social Development, said “the department is aware of issues that were raised by the local social worker as well as the ward councillor.
“Prior to these allegations, the department was already engaging the current executive committee to address other issues raised by the Mpumalanga/Limpopo executive committee,” he said.
The allegations by the social worker and the local ward councillor led to the appointment of a task team to formally investigate the issues, said Kwapa.
The team is to investigate:
- The existence of the Sassa account according to the allegations.
- How the said account is managed.
- Whether there are guidelines on how funds are to be deposited into and withdrawn from the account.
- Compliance with the guidelines in respect of the above account.
- The number of bank accounts held by the organisation.
- Compliance with the guidelines on the account.
- The existence of a ghost account or an account unknown to the acting manager.
- The use of organisational funds for personal or private matters.
- The existence of financial policies.
- Compliance with financial guidelines.
- The use of resident’s allowances for organisational or personal matters.
- The management of residents’ pocket money.
- The hiring and firing of employees without following due processes.
According to Kwapa, the department has implemented various interventions and continues to provide monitoring and support to the centre.
Social development MEC Ndalane also visited the centre to get first-hand information and the department conducted capacity building on financial management and governance to committee and staff members, according to Kwapa.
“The task team has completed its investigations and recommended that the matter be referred to the risk unit within the department. The unit has started its investigations and a report is expected in three weeks,” said Kwapa. DM